Trumpeter never gained his due
The Complete Capitol Bobby Hackett’s Solo Sessions
Not everyone is familiar with the talents of trumpeter-cornetist Bobby Hackett, but many of those who are consider his tone equal to Bix Beiderbecke’s and his will to swing superior.
Yet, Hackett never achieved the stature of his idol, Louis Armstrong, or the fame enjoyed by the flashier Harry James mainly because he had less exposure than either musician. That, coupled with the fact he became associated with “mood music,” resulting from a series of albums with comic Jackie Gleason, which in turn lessened his appeal as a jazz artist.
But make no mistake, Hackett was a marvelous musician as this collection of recordings he made for Capitol between 1953 and 1959 demonstrate. The 124 tracks in the five-disc compendium are taken from 10 long-forgotten albums and offer nearly six hours of listening pleasure.
Albums have been paired by musical concept. The first two discs are devoted to Hackett’s quartet. It’s augmented in various combinations by brass, reed, string and vocal choirs; the third and fourth feature Hackett’s octet and quartet, and the fifth disc contains two concept albums (blues and Hawaiian).
Discs one and two amount mainly to Hackett’s straight-on performances of romantic ballads. Never one to mess around much with a melody, Hackett is able to give the selection a variety of textures by using mutes of all sizes and shapes cup, bucket, straight, Harman, etc.
Memorable entries an up-tempo reading of “I Cried For You,” two songs he played with the Glenn Miller orchestra in the flick; Orchestra Wives (“Serenade In Blue ” and “At Last”); “Some Day You’ll Be Sorry” that smacks of Armstrong; and the touching Frank Sinatra theme, “Put Your Dreams Away.”
The tracks from the albums he cut with his octet provide unending highlights. Put simply, Hackett’s group is free to roam, and roam it does. For openers, the charts are solid, and as a result, old warhorses like “Wolverine Blues” and “At the Jazz Band Ball” sound fresh. And the otherwise bland “In a Little Spanish Town” is given a tricky twist by the interjections of “Salt Peanuts.”
The combo also puts a high polish on “A Handful of Stars,” “Street of Dreams” and other songs that lend themselves to quiet treatments.
Hackett no doubt is inspired by the presence of such esteemed sidemen as baritone saxist Ernie Caceres, pianist Dave McKenna, alto hornman Dick Cary, bassist Milt Hinton, clarinetist Bob Wilber, pianist Dick Hyman and tubist John Dengler.
The album, “Blues With A Kick,” one of the two concept albums, spotlights the Hackett octet with strings. And with pianist Dave Mckenna, the one-man rhythm section; and Hinton on the band, there’s jazz for the taking.
There’s a splendid version of “Blues In My Heart.” Other notable cuts include three Dixieland evergreens: “Weary Blues,” “Davenport Blues,” and “Bye, Bye Blues,” as well as a swinging “Limehouse Blues.”
A second album, “The Bobby Hackett Quartet,” is on the same disc, and it’s another free- blowing session featuring both the leader and McKenna on such songs as “Stomping at the Savoy,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream.”
The album, “Hawaii Swings,” serves as a finale for the collection.
And despite the presence of an all-star lineup – guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, pianists Lou Stein and McKenna and reedman Bob Wilber – the entry isn’t up to par with the other music.
Somehow hearing Hackett and friends play “Hula Hoop Girl” seems like a terrible waste of talent although when the group is pared to a foursome, things get better with performances of “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Prelude to a Kiss.”
The boxed set includes an LP-size booklet containing numerous photographs, an informative narrative by Dan Morgenstern and a complete discography.
(Note: Available by mail order. For orders or information, Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford , CT; or 203-323-3526)
Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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